Do Current ‘Urban Cyclists’ Even Know About The ‘Door Zone’?

Background Reading


Yet another tiresome article about a cyclist who collides with a door opened by a parked motorist. We have known about this phenomenon for years and yet cyclists keep making the same “mistake” over and over again. Why is that?

The situation was reported this way on StreetsBlog:

California Vehicle Code 22517 is clear: “No person shall open the door of a vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of such traffic.

But in the view of Geico Car Insurance, which insures the driver who, on January 28, stopped in front of Melissa Moore in the Polk Street bike lane, opened his door, and knocked her off her bike, he’s only 80 percent at fault for the crash.

That’s right — even after seeing video footage of the crash, Moore says Geico is putting 20 percent of the blame on her for getting doored on northbound Polk at Golden Gate Avenue, leaving her with physical pain and a taxing legal battle.

In what Moore calls a “flat out lie,” she says Geico accuses her of speeding as she climbed uphill on Polk at what appears in the video to be single-digit speeds.

Yes the vehicle code warns drivers about opening doors on traffic with the caveat that they judge the action taken “is reasonably safe to so and can be done without interfering with the movement of such traffic.” This of course means that no matter what the circumstances there is some portion of the blame that can be laid on the shoulders of the cyclist since the motorist has discretion to judge if the maneuver is defensible.

Now for just a moment let’s not get into the trap of arguing whether the driver in this particular instance was 100% negligent. Let’s instead focus on the cyclists safety. Let’s put that uppermost in our minds and ask how does one ride without ever even having to worry about Door Zonecollisions“.

We have strategies that cities like Chicago have tried to teach:

There is a corollary to this “Door Zone Rule” and that is the “3 Foot Rule“. Why exactly three feet? That seems arbitrary. But the case can be made that it is designed to “allow cyclists to safely ride outside the Door Zone” without having to worry about automobiles clipping them as they avoid the “Door Zone Collision“.

So the real question is why are riders unwilling to ride outside the Door Zone? The simple physics of this action means that you can never be “doored” by a passenger exiting a car in the first instance. So why not employ the strategy?

Urban Cyclists Are Afraid

Taking the Lane” is something that cyclists fear to do in many Urban Areas. This technique is designed to position the cyclist directly in front of the trailing motor vehicle where they can safely avoid collisions with opening doors. But motorists are often impatient with cyclists whose nominal rates of speed slow them down. Some of them try and push past bicycle riders and do so without observing the “3 Foot Rule“. If this happens often enough a lone cyclist decides to ride in the “Door Zone” despite the inherent dangers in doing that, believing that a collision with a door is preferable to being clipped by a moving vehicle.

Cities like Chicago are busy trying to remove this pressure from cyclists by situating them to the right of the parked cars. Yes if a passenger side rider exits a “Door Zone” collision can still occur. But the presumption is that such collisions are rarer than those like to occur should the cyclist ride along the driver’s side.

But cities like Chicago sometimes get quite lazy and decide to run a protected bike lane (on a one-way street like Dearborn) that has two-way bike traffic in a space really designed for a single rider. The result is that once again the bicycle riders are placed in “harm’s way” by literally forcing all northbound cyclists up against cars in a fashion that is not unlike what they experience in “Sharrow lanes” like those on Milwaukee Avenue. One has to wonder what bright young mind thought up this “disaster“.

Lane Designers Are Sometimes Clueless

Admit it: Chicagos new Dearborn bike lane makes you a wee bit jealous.  Photo: © Active Transportation Alliance

Admit it: Chicagos new Dearborn bike lane makes you a wee bit jealous.
Photo: © Active Transportation Alliance

Urban lane designers are sometimes like “fracking engineers“. The average bike lane is being created “on the cheap” so that everyone gets to see the pretty green paint and think safety to themselves. That is certainly the impression you get when riding along the northbound edge of the PBL on Dearborn Street. But unless you reverse the sides along which cyclists travel in this instance you are really not much better off on Dearborn than you would be on Milwaukee with the exception that the engineers left you no room to your left to “bail out” except into oncoming bicycle traffic.

(Note: There is a slight buffer area painted in, but being aware of your surroundings as doors are opened would be wise.)

Again who was asleep at the wheel when this design was dreamt up? And to make matters worse the lap dogs for the CDOT are trying to pressure us into agreeing, no demanding more of the same sort of thing from the same people all in the name of “safety“. We do not need cycling advocates who cannot understand basic laws of physics. We need either to take it upon ourselves to do our own advocating or to hold the feet of groups like Active Transportation Alliance to the fire and ask, why have you never complained about this design? And why on earth would you be pushing for more of the same without getting some assurances that this sort of design flaw will not be propagated elsewhere?

We Need To Be Proactive As Cyclists

There is nobody who will look out for me as a cyclist any better than I can. Everyone who has any financial or political gain at stake in getting PBLs propagated throughout the city is not necessarily as competent as you might hope. More often they are stretched thin trying to lobby for mass transit and pedestrian causes and frankly relying on the CDOT folks to do the “heavy lifting“.

But look, if something as simple as who should clean up the snow in the bike lane was not “ironed out” before Dearborn’s PBL was installed and it ultimately fell to a couple of guys from CDOT to take over for Streets and Sanitation, that should tell you volumes. Knowing how chaotic cities can be I will not pick a fight over this issue beyond saying you should expect more until such time as the expertise and the equipment are employed in a reasonable fashion.

But frankly I have doubts that as the number of miles of PBLs grows whether a two-person team is sufficient to do the job for all the lanes in the city. Call me a cynic, but so be it. What is indefensible however is for the Urban Cycling Community to get so wrapped up in “eye candy” that it succumbs to “misdirection plays“. We are so busy staring at the bosom of the blond on the red carpeted runway that we fail to notice that her escort is walking behind us lifting our wallets. And the little kid standing just behind us is trying to tell us what is happening and we ignore him because she is so voluptuous.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Do not fall for the “we are here to help you” message. Take charge of your own safety. Relying on a vehicle code is no substitute for avoiding the “Door Zone“.
  • Treat your cycling advocates the same way you would an bureaucrat, “trust but verify“. Their job is not to dig into the details so much as to schmooze the bureaucrats. Beyond that they are sometimes worthless.
  • Politicians and bureaucrats are pushed and pulled from all sides. They will promise you miles and miles of PBLs and then decide to rename them so as to better their odds in delivering on what they promised. They are like your frisky high school prom date. Keep your eyes on their hands. They can no more control their propensity to prevaricate than a fat man can avoid cherry pies.